Connected through Time: Greek- and African-Americans Unite in Baltimore

BALTIMORE, MD – In 1965 at the political and emotional height of the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued a call for bravery with the march on Selma. His call was answered by a Greek, Archbishop Iakovos, one of the few prominent non African-American clergymen with the courage to walk hand in hand with Dr. King on his momentous march. Their historic bond was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26th, 1965.
48 years later the Johns Hopkins University Hellenic Association commemorated this timeless cultural bond with the first ever Greek and African-American Reception, held at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture. The storied setting of this downtown Baltimore Museum seemed the perfect location to honor an ethnic connection that has endured through time.
“This is the story that museums exist to tell,” says Dr. Skipp Sanders, Museum Director, and former Deputy Superintendent of Schools.
It is particularly fitting that upon entering the museum one of the first things to greet museum visitors are the names Georgia and Peter Angelos, whose generous contribution years ago made the museum a reality.
Honored guests included former Senator Paul Sarbanes, Lt. Governor of Maryland Anthony Brown, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Congressman John P. Sarbanes, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Deputy Mayor of Baltimore City Kaliope Parthemos, Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
A host of other distinguished names of the state’s business * civic leaders were also present including Brown Capital Management Chairman * CEO Eddie C. Brown, Former Westinghouse Corp. executive Aris Melissaratos, developer Theo C. Rogers, President of Morgan State University Dr. David Wilson, President of Verizon (Mid-Atlantic) Anthony Lewis, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Dr. Albert Reece, Adcor Industries President Jimmy Stavrakis , Michael Cryor of the Cryor Group, and DLA Piper attorneys Thomas Prevas and Guy Flynn.
The event was orchestrated by the evening’s host, George Petrocheilos, President of the Johns Hopkins Hellenic Association.
After a cocktail reception catered by Act Class Catering, the mass of dignitaries gathered round to give speeches and delve into the true nature of the Greek and African American bond.
“It’s a legacy of solidarity,” says Congressman John Sarbanes powerfully to the diverse room. “It’s a legacy of solidarity leading up to today, and this day is something to build on and form a tradition around.”
“Our history is a shared history,” comments Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake impressively as she stands beside her Deputy Mayor and longtime friend Kaliope Parthemos at the podium. The two met in the sixth grade at a magnet school when a young Mayor Rawlings-Blake was intrigued enough by Deputy Mayor Parthemos’ traditional Greek lunch to go over to the latter’s lonely table and strike up a conversation. “The cultural relationship speaks for itself,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake now says many years later, “and we are exhibit A. Our history is a shared history – and what I think is a shared future.”
Aris Melissaratos, Senior Adviser to the Johns Hopkins President and Former Secretary of Business and Economic Development in Maryland as well as a former top executive with Westinghouse, says we need only to look at patterns in the past to see concrete evidence of the historic and cultural turns of the future.
“Look at history,” he says. “Every ethnicity takes a turn at being the minority of interest. Every ethnic group works hard to overcome the obstacles invariably put in its way. You come to this country and your people start as dishwashers, then waiters, then they own restaurants. And soon they’re becoming lawyers and doctors.”
For Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ties between Greek- and African- Americans is built on a shared sense of empathy, and acting upon this empathy is the key to a bright future for both parties.
“This is the way to advance the race,” he says passionately to a captivated and engaged audience. “By working together. Our histories have been intertwined, and our destinies have been married together. This is a special relationship that did not start in this generation – it started in the past, and it will continue into the future.”
Andreas Akaras, Senior Advisor to Rep. John Sarbanes, was the last person to speak and he gave the historical background of the two communities. Although his remarks were brief, he emphasized on the idea of Greek philotimo – love of honor – and explained how it applies in this evening’s reception.
The evening’s commemoration of the inspired relationship between the African-American and Greek-American communities arose from Sarbanes Hellenism in the Public Service initiative, and was given great impetus when TNH published a commentary by Andreas Akaras, When Philotimo Stood With African-Americans. Through these efforts, the Johns Hopkins Hellenic Association answered the call to public service and organized the evenings presentation.
Akaras also noted that “2015 will mark 50 years since the march on Selma, which will offer a great opportunity for our community to join African-Americans in commemorating that struggle for full liberties.”
He added that “2013 marks the 150th year of the emancipation proclamation, 100 years from the death of Harriet Tubman and the birth of Rosa Parks, and 50 years since the march on Washington. The Order of AHEPA will organize several other commemorations like the one in Baltimore this year throughout the country.”
There will always be calls to action voiced by great men like Dr. King, and it is hoped that there will always be men like Archbishop Iakovos willing to respond, for without reciprocity, one man’s greatness can only do so much. Perhaps it is said best by an African proverb Congressman Cummings had the insight to quote: “If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go together.”

Additional reporting by TNH staff.